June 14, 2024


Simply The Best Food

The 58 Best Lines From 2020’s Grub Street Diets

10 min read

Illustration: Clockwise from left: Lindsay Mound, Margalit Cutler, Ryan Inzana, Lindsay Mound, Ryan Inzana, Margalit Cutler

Over the course of the Grub Street Diet’s 14-year history, nothing has presented a test quite like the turmoil and upheaval of 2020. Food doesn’t exist in a vacuum, after all, and even the act of eating — we learned — could mean so much more. Reading this year’s columns can feel a bit like traveling back through a decade’s worth of experiences. Our subjects cooked their way through every stage of the pandemic, struggled to find joy in food during the Black Lives Matters protests, wondered if we’d ever again return to restaurants, and, eventually, found a way to live and eat within our strange new shared reality. 

New Yorker writer Jiayang Fan on the art of waking up:
“Woke up late and had shrimp cocktail for breakfast.”

Actor Noah Galvin drinks cold brew year-round:
“I walked to Peck’s, my local coffee shop in Clinton Hill, and ordered a large cold brew in late January like a psychopath.”

Comedian Shane Torres wonders what really counts as calories:
“It had been hours since food entered my body, unless you count vodka as potatoes.”

Comedian Ziwe defines her diet:
“I have the palate of a middle schooler with an expense account.”

Douglas Kim on the first days of the restaurant shutdown:
“Think about this: It’s only been two days so far. Everyone in the industry, they have no idea. They’re just so depressed. Like, Oh, God, what am I supposed to do? They can’t think about anything else.”

Author Emily Gould describing what it was like to quarantine in March, when her family got sick:
“It felt like a production of No Exit, but starring members of my immediate family.”

Fan breaks the law for jerky:
“I’ve been known to play fast and loose with customs declarations when I smuggle cartel-worthy quantities of jerky on the plane from China to the U.S.”

Writer Wesley Morris on the significance of every bit of food this year:
“I’m just saying that my meals are a real luxury and I bless each one — even my superstitiously disease-warding, soap-washed navel orange.”

Author Molly Wizenberg on missing the community of queer bars and places:
“I miss watching people flirt, summer legs in shorts, people with their arms around each other. I even miss the smell of cigarette smoke.”

Journalist Mike Isaac grabs breakfast on the go:
“I had to run a bunch of errands that morning — post office, therapy, CVS — so I already knew what I was going to eat for breakfast: a steaming pair of Starbucks egg-white egg bites.”

Ceramicist Stephanie H. Shih was just eating food as fuel for protests:
“Normally, when I eat, I’m like, Ooh, what do I want to eat? What would I enjoy? What am I in the mood for? Now, I don’t even process the eating as consuming food.”

Director Lulu Wang knows how to live:
“It’s an all-women’s spa, so I sit in the kitchen in nothing but a robe eating dumplings.”

Pamela Adlon shares her reading habits:
“I read cookbooks like they’re pornography. I just go through them like the way I used to read comic books and magazines and now that’s a comfort for me.”

Writer Kelly Conaboy’s secret for celebrating the holidays during quarantine:
“I highly recommend getting candy canes, hanging them on a Christmas tree, and then choosing one each morning to put in your coffee. It is both a cruel game and a seasonal taste experience.”

Sohla El-Waylly on her hot-dog revelation:
“I first had American-style hot dogs when I was 19 years old, and I was married to a Mexican man, and one of their regular meals at their home was tacos de salchicha — hot-dog tacos — and that’s when I learned the power of the hot dog.”

How Long Gone co-host Jason Stewart goes to Erewhon for one reason:
“I should note that I only go to Erewhon as a prank on myself, and am not rich enough to buy my groceries there.”

Comedian Demi Adejuyigbe has adopted a new aesthetic this year:
“I keep describing myself as a sort of northeastern Martha Stewart–type Vermont mother.”

Food writer Priya Krishna on how her mom and dad show affection:
“I swear, cut fruit is Asian parents’ love language.”

Author Bryan Washington on the perks of living in his hometown:
“You’ve got hella options for boba and iced coffee in Houston.”

Writer Bess Kalb learned to cook:
“I am now a woman who makes soup from scratch, and two months ago, if you had told me I’d use our blender for anything other than smoothies, I would have laughed and then quietly feared you.”

Rancho Gordo’s bean king Steve Sando believes his favorite cornbread recipe does have a couple flaws:
“The only problem with this cornbread is it doesn’t keep. And the other problem is deciding what the word portion means.”

Author David Kamp recalls the comforts he used to take for granted:
“Will any of us ever get to enjoy serendipitous coffee breaks with doomy synth-pop titans again?”

SNL’s Heidi Gardner defines her taste in pizza:
“I’m a classically trained cheese-pizza girl occasionally venturing out to a white pizza. That’s who I am. But Prince Street is my secret-identity pizza girl.”

Cookbook author Matty Matheson on the tacos he grew up with in Canada:
“It’s complete bastardized Mexican food — it’s the king’s crown of appropriation.”

Gould has her hot and cold relationship with coffee:
“One of the more annoying things I do in this realm is that every nine months or so I quit drinking coffee, which always entails a period of horrible withdrawal and then a period of feeling like a golden god who doesn’t need caffeine.”

Author Bill Buford likes his clams:
“We drank a bottle of Pigato, the fresh, bright white wine from Liguria — dinner as a mode of travel therapy — and afterward pulled out the fat critters’ insides, holding them by their necks and sucking out their fat bellies like seafood lollipops.”

Photographer Brad Ogbonna on graduating from Carlo Rossi:
“I moved to New York and started feeling older, elevating to Barefoot, and as time passed, I tried to expand and got really into Malbec.”

Jason Stewart has a milk habit:
“Despite it being disgusting to anyone under 60, I’m desperately trying to preserve the bygone tradition of drinking a full glass of milk with dinner, for no other reason than it’s funny to me.”

Shih on going from being totally alone to being among crowds of protesters:
“It was so crazy to go from the pandemic thinking of ‘We cannot be near each other’ to ‘I must help this person who is screaming in pain by pouring water into their eyes.’”

Galvin stands his ground when it comes to herbs:
“I ate around the cilantro. Fight me. Julia Child hated cilantro. I stand with Julia.”

Actress Marisa Tomei wasn’t really thinking about food this summer:
“But I wasn’t even able to really taste anything … Nothing is registering.”

Hot Ones host Sean Evans explains his ideal glass of red:
“I want a wine so dry it feels like I’m sipping sand, and this was pretty close.”

Author Juan Vidal doesn’t romanticize leafy greens:
“As far as I’m concerned, sausage-flavored bread snacks from Ukraine will always beat a bowl of lettuce with some punk-ass cherry tomatoes sprinkled on top.”

Artist Andrew Kuo believes quarantine has changed his appetite:
“I exercise at home, but I think seeing the Chocolate Factory of amazing foods you can eat in New York City makes me hungry. Not seeing or smelling anything, I’m just like, Well, whatever, turkey sandwich sounds great.”

Actress Rosalind Chao sometimes makes her husband breakfast:
“My husband is intermittent fasting, so if I like him that day, I make a green fruit smoothie in the fridge for him as well.”

Writer Katori Hall was taught a thing or two about cooking:
“My mama did teach her little girl how to, as she says, ‘burn in the kitchen’ — not actually burn stuff, but cook really good in the kitchen.”

Kalb is really excited about her new culinary techniques:
“Until recently, I did not know what ‘deglazed’ was, and now that I do (pouring liquid on hot things in a pan? I think?) I can’t stop talking about all the stuff I deglaze. I honestly could deglaze all day.”

SNL’s Ego Nwodim is proud of her sweet tooth:
“I don’t get this from anyone in my family. I developed that on my own, as with so many other things in my life.”

WNYC’s Alison Stewart believes popcorn is a happy-times food:
“No one eats popcorn when they’re sad, like you’re drinking glasses of whiskey ‘cause you’re bummed out or stuffing carbs in your mouth.”

Politician Zohran Mamdani isn’t backing down:
“I thought I was going to get canceled because of Palestine. Then I thought it was because of bike lanes. But really it’s because I’m ride or die on the blueberry smoothie at the bodegas New York City wide.”

Sando on missing company and dinner parties:
“I want to open that door and see someone on the other side — that would make me very happy.”

Morris on an ex’s talents in the kitchens:
“You could have him open a set of cabinets, and there could be two rusty screws, a Cabbage Patch doll, and a jar of light bulbs or something, and he would make you the most delicious meal you had in your whole life.”

Restaurant Ria Graham on her husband Kevol’s talents:
“He eats popcorn like a force.”

Cheesemonger Anne Saxelby explains what dinner is like with a young child:
“Eating with Reggie is a full-contact sport.”

Yardy’s DeVonn Francis on the conversations he’s been having with himself about his work:
“What do we want out of it for ourselves, and what is the work that we make for ourselves that just matters, because we would make it anyways even if no one was watching.”

Opening Ceremony co-founder Humberto Leon on his Doritos preferences:
“I’m normally more of a Nacho Cheese person. Cool Ranch is one of those things where it’s a special occasion for me.”

Artist Chloe Wise on the importance of hygiene when cooking for others:
“That means I have to stop painting, and I have to wash my hands because I’m feeding someone else and I don’t want to feed them oil paint … unless they want it — but, you know, it’s about consent here.”

Shih explains the importance of food as part of jail support:
“If we’re talking about the meaning of food and giving people food right now, here is a way we are using food to comfort people and to show them that we are on their side and they are not alone.”

Adlon on the multiple glories of a vodka highball with lemon-lime soda:
“You’re warding off scurvy, you’re getting vitamins, and it’s easy and delicious to drink, and it doesn’t fuck you up.”

Washington explains the benefits of starting the morning with French toast:
“It’s delicious, so I’m like, Okay, if the rest of this day still fucking sucks, I’ll have made French toast.”

Cookbook author Nik Sharma does need some space:
“He’s been going to work daily, so he hasn’t been at home driving me nuts. We were very thankful for that.”

G.L.I.T.S. founder Ceyenne Doroshow on what restaurants need to know about her:
“They got the heads-up that I am a little bit of a diva, which is always good.”

Rafael Espinal on what Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, was like the day Biden’s presidential-election win was confirmed:
“But it also was a very, I think, stark realization that people in my community, because of the decades of disinvestment and years of broken promises from candidates, still feel a little jaded by the political process and whether or not change in the White House will turn into change at home.”

Ziwe on honoring culinary traditions:
“The jollof rice, that’s labor-intensive, that’s centuries of training being acted upon as I cook, as I put my foot into the dish.”

Mamdani has ulterior motives for helping his parents with technology:
“I said it was to help situate them a little better. I wanted to help set them up, but I think I wanted to be around them as much as I told myself I was there to help them.”

Matheson on American and Canadian differences, as explained by the buffalo chicken sandwich:
“The people who don’t like it never grew up going to the States. Like, Okay, you’re too Canadian. You can’t handle it.”

Adejuyigbe knows the best part about baking:
“In removing the cake from the pan, a bunch of gooey lemon-glazed crumbs gathered, and I ate them all like a disgusting little gremlin.”

Issac on the double-edged sword that is the Grub Street Diet:
“I went to bed at midnight, thinking that agreeing to publish a week of my diet on the internet might not have been the best idea.”

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